The American Red Cross says people should only swim at...

The American Red Cross says people should only swim at designated areas supervised by a lifeguard. Seen here, beachgoers at Coopers Beach in Southampton on Friday. Credit: Randee Daddona

Whether grilling in the backyard, swimming at the beach or hitting the road, Long Islanders celebrating the nation's 246th birthday need to keep safety in mind, experts said.

Dr. Steven Sandoval, associate professor of surgery and medical director of the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center at Stony Brook University Hospital, said he sees many children injured by improperly disposed barbecue coals and even sparklers, considered by many to be the “safest” of any fireworks.

“Kids play with them like they are lightsabers,” Sandoval said. “They poke each other. They hit themselves in the face, in the arm, set their clothes on fire — all things we have seen.” 

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Division estimated 8,500 fireworks-related injuries occurred last year between June 18 and July 18. And more than 10,600 home fires are started by grills every year with the peak month being July, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

From fireworks to firing up the grill, here are some common safety concerns for July Fourth activities and tips on staying safe.

OUTDOOR COOKING

Grilling hot dogs, chicken, corn on the cob and other July 4 staples is a highlight of any party or gathering. Whether it’s a charcoal or gas grill, the devices deliver searing heat and steam and should be used with extra caution.

The National Fire Protection Association says grills should be placed away from a home, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches. Children and pets should always stay at least 3 feet away from the grilling area, the organization said. And never leave the grill unattended.

Sandoval said people should never use kerosene or gasoline to start fire pits and barbecues. Instead use only lighter fluids meant for cooking, he said.

In addition, don’t throw used charcoal on the ground, even if it is covered with water or sand.

“A child could run over it with both feet or trip and fall, and their hands go into that pile,” he said. “It may look like plain sand, but that sand is very hot … that’s a pretty common injury.”

FIREWORKS

There are several professional fireworks displays across the island this weekend, but it’s a sure bet that people will continue to set off fireworks on their streets or in their backyards — a practice that is not only illegal but can also be dangerous, officials said. 

Fireworks and sparkling devices are illegal in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to the state Division of Consumer Protection.

WATER SAFETY

A dip in the water at the beach or a backyard pool is another Fourth of July tradition for many Long Islanders. The water is filled with hazards including rip currents and marine life, including sharks. A lifeguard at Smith Point County Park beach suffered shark bites to the chest and hand on Sunday, but officials said such attacks off Long Island shores are rare.

The American Red Cross says people should only swim at designated areas supervised by a lifeguard. The organization also suggested people designate a “water watcher” to keep a constant eye on everyone in and around the water.

If you are caught in a rip current, don’t fight it, the Red Cross said. Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then try to swim to shore.

For backyard pools, the Red Cross also recommends a water watcher and to always stay in arm’s reach of young children. Pools should be secured with appropriate barriers and anti-entrapment drain covers, and safety release systems should be installed to protect against drain entrapment.

SUN SAFETY

Whether you are at the pool or a picnic, the beach or a baseball game there is one must-have accessory for all July Fourth activities — sunscreen.

Nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency recommends people wear wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and apply a thick layer of broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher on all exposed skin.

Sandoval emphasized people should stay hydrated with nonalcoholic beverages and make sure children are properly hydrated while playing outside.

“People don’t think that sunburns can get you hospitalized but I have seen it several times for nearly the last 20 years,” Sandoval said. “Dehydration makes sunburns much worse.”

ALCOHOL

Law enforcement in both Nassau and Suffolk counties will step up patrols of both drunken and impaired drivers and boaters for the holiday weekend. Safety experts said other activities including cooking and swimming also become dangerous if a person has consumed too much alcohol.

Even sunburns can be more serious if people are intoxicated. And the focus should be on making sure children say safe.

"Kids aren't really aware of the dangers of the activities that can occur," said Sandoval. "It's up to the parents ... we want people to stay safe and keep the people around them safe, too."

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